‘Street Kings’: To live and die in Hell-A

Tue, 04/15/2008 - 3:08pm
By: Michael Boylan

James Ellroy has penned some great works about cops, crime and corruption in Los Angeles. “L.A. Confidential” was an Oscar contender and “The Black Dahlia” desperately wanted to be. The latest film with his name on it, “Street Kings,” ditches the 1950s and moves the story to modern Los Angeles where things are a whole lot grittier and way more dangerous.

Keanu Reeves plays Detective Tom Ludlow, Vice’s number one cop, probably because he’s a grieving alcoholic and just doesn’t care anymore (“Lethal Weapon,” anyone?). His boss, Captain Wander, a terrifically hammy Forrest Whittaker, is always bailing him out of sticky situations. It’s nothing for him to plant or swipe a little evidence as long as the bad guys get caught and the job gets done. Internal affairs starts sniffing around, though, and Ludlow thinks a former partner of his may be ratting him out. When the potential rat gets gunned down and Ludlow is on the scene, he grows a conscience and decides to look into the murder.

“Street Kings” moves along at a good pace, and it has a fantastic cast. Reeves and Whittaker are joined by John Corbett, Jay Mohr, Hugh Laurie and Chris Evans, as well as the guy who plays Sucre on “Prison Break.” Unfortunately, so many of those guys don’t have all that much to do in the film. Reeves is fine as the straight man and Whittaker looks like he is having a blast, but Corbett, Mohr and Sucre, as Ludlow’s associates on Vice, never really get to strut their stuff. They just circle Reeves and tell him to leave the case alone – which, of course, he can’t.

There have been a number of better cops and robbers or dirty cops and robbers movies set in Los Angeles, “Training Day” and “Harsh Times” are two of the more recent ones that come to mind, but “Street Kings” is in the same stratosphere. That’s because director David Ayer wrote and directed “Harsh Times” and wrote and produced “Training Day.” What those movies had that “Street Kings” doesn’t is urgency. Those films felt grimy and claustrophobic and the viewer felt that bad things were going to happen at any minute. Bad things happen in “Street Kings,” but we see them coming a mile away. Also, while the viewer can’t really hate Detective Ludlow, the viewer can’t really root for him either.

For guys who like movies about cops and guns and gangs, you could do worse than “Street Kings,” but you could also do better.


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